Of all the problems you want in your village, probably the last one would be having dragons destroying your crops and livestock. In How to Train Your Dragon, a wonderful animated film from DreamWorks Animation studio based on a novel by Cressida Cowell, these pesky creatures ignore the no-fly zone and create havoc in the Viking village of Berk. The film, however, is less about dragon wars than about having the courage to be yourself, even if it means challenging the conventional wisdom. In Berk, the tribal leader Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler), a kind of hairy Hulk Hogan type, wants his slightly-built son, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), to follow in his well-trodden footsteps and become a dragon killer, the traditional activity of the Vikings for hundreds of years.
Hiccup, however, doesn’t fit the mold and has other ideas that do not include trying to kill anyone, especially those of the fire-breathing type. Though the father does not think too highly of his son’s potential as a Viking warrior, all teens in the village, including Hiccup, are sent to training camp to learn how to best use their clubs and shields in the beasticide. While out in the forest one day, Hiccup uses his own weapon to bring down a “Night Fury” species of dragon and thinks he has something to brag about, but the next day when he is out wandering again, he comes upon the wounded green-eyed dragon who is grounded, not because he stayed out too late, but because his wings are injured and he can’t fly.
Apparently, Hiccup is guilty of the unpardonable sin of having empathy to go along with an open mind, a no-no in Viking land. He names the dragon “Toothless” and brings him food and tends to his wounds. The boy notices that the dragon seems as frightened of him as he is of it and this ability to see the world from the dragon’s perspective allows the two to begin to form a bond. Of course, as with other uphill battles against entrenched orthodoxy, convincing others of a new way of looking at things is not easy. The smart and spunky Hiccup uses his keen sense of humor to try and convince his father, the twins Ruffnut (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (voiced by T.J. Miller), and especially a young girl in the training class named Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) that the dragons aggressiveness are only their way of defending themselves from being attacked, but his effort is summarily rebuffed.
As is inevitable in films for children, there are plenty of battles and here they involve some thrilling flying sequences (I would have liked to have seen them in 3-D). The Viking leaders look for the dragon’s nest to try and eliminate their foes once and for all, capturing Toothless to help them find the hiding place. Fearing for Toothless’ safety, Hiccup and his teenage pals embark on a rescue mission that includes daring maneuvers between mountain peaks on the backs of dragons. One can only hope that, with the end of the battle, the wars between dragon and man will end, but, if the endless conflicts of today are any indicator, the chances are that the villagers will find another enemy.
How to Train Your Dragon is a funny and entertaining film that captures the imagination in a way that some recent children’s films fail to do. Though love between man and dragon is a bit out of the mainstream, to see this kind of tender relationship depicted on the screen in any form is indeed welcome. Intelligently written and extremely well performed, the film has moments of genuine compassion and its message is one worth remembering — that it is more nurturing to be yourself and stand up for what you think is right then to try to live up to others expectations.